Sports therapy is one of the various interventions used to help children with autism. It refers to the use of sports to help children learn skills and develop. Sports therapy is especially used for older children with autism who still need the sensory stimulation provided by physical activities. Sports therapy is often recommended by professionals in the field of autism, but can be carried on in schools, or at home with peers. This also works out as a practical option for therapy in the context of integrated schools. This article focuses on the benefits of sports therapy for autistic children and gives ideas for specific sports to try.
Sports and the Sensory System
Children with autism have deficits in their sensory processing. They usually seek sensory stimulation much more than others around them. This need for sensory stimulation is also the cause for many autistic behaviors such as spinning, rocking and restlessness. Physical and sensory activities allow the child the opportunity to experience these sensations. Sports are a socially acceptable activity that can help children with autism get sensory input. Sports also requires the child to respond to sensory input. Thus, this helps in the further development of the sensory processing system, which will show imported skills in all areas of life.
Sports and Social Behavior:
Children with autism usually have under developed social skills. They may struggle with initiating a conversation, or even responding to a question. Participating in sports gives them an opportunity to learn to interact and play with other children. Team games help children with autism learn to coordinate with those around them. Thus, sports can help children with autism to learn social skills and connect to those around them.
Sports for Children with Autism:
Every child with autism is different and has different sensory needs. Thus, they will prefer different sports that give them different types of sensory input. Here are some of the sensory needs of children with autism, and some sports that they may enjoy.
Tactile Sports: Children who tend to rub things on their body, or rub themselves on the wall usually enjoy tactile sports. Some ideas include swimming, beach volleyball, beach Frisbee, and any sports that require running bare foot on grass or sand.
Proprioceptive Sports: Autistic children who tend to jump a lot, or bump against walls and people, or just enjoy pressure on their joints will enjoy proprioceptive sports. These include weight lifting, gymnastics, basketball, self defense and boxing.
Vestibular Sports: Autistic children who are always on the move will enjoy vestibular sports. These include running, cycling, baseball, tennis and soccer.
Using Sports for Learning:
Sports can be used to help children settle down and learn in school. This can be done by allowing two to three slots in a day where the child can participate in sports activities that he or she enjoys. Following the sports activity, the child will typcially show an increased ablity to concentrate, sit and learn. Specific sports activities can also be used as rewards for children with autism when they perform well in the classroom.
Thus, sports therapy for autistic children has many benefits and can be used to help them learn and develop. For more information on autism and exercise, read this.
Sher, B. (2009). Early Intervention Games. USA: Jossey- Bass.
Volkmar, F. R. (2007). Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.